Reporters have a love/hate relationship with PR people. Often hate. And a lot of it is self inflicted.
To understand this complicated, but symbiotic relationship – good PR people provide valuable information reporters use to craft a compelling story his/her readers read – let’s zoom out and look at what’s causing the friction.
First, there’s too many PR people per reporter. According to a Muck Rack post last year, there are 5 PR people for every reporter, double the rate from a decade ago. That means reporters are getting inundated with emails, many of the irrelevant. Irrelevant? Yes. PR people are getting squeezed by their clients to deliver results, so instead of doing the diligence to identify the appropriate reporter, many rely on a media list provider like Cision to develop their media lists and then blast their pitches.
When I teach my PR 101 workshop for General Assembly, I send this Newsweek article, “I READ AND REPLIED TO EVERY SINGLE PR EMAIL I RECEIVED FOR A WEEK” to offer some perspective on what it’s like to be a reporter.
Second, many companies confuse advertising with publicity, many companies consider the reporter relationship transactional, and many companies desperately try to control the narrative. In other words, companies “need” the reporter to cover their story and the story “needs” to reflect all of the company’s key talking points. In other words, they’re looking for an advertisement under the guise of publicity.
Great interview with Michael Clark. Open, honest, engaging, insightful – lucky no PR people around to make sure he was 'on message'
— Tom Allen (@TomAllen22) December 6, 2013
That’s big picture. Then there’s small picture, basic blocking and tackling that PR people seem to frequently botch. Things like:
Don’t send relevant pitches
Reminder to PR: If you pitch me something that's not what I cover, you're going into my spam filter and I won't see future pitches from you.
— Kim Zetter (@KimZetter) June 10, 2016
Ask for questions in advance
OK: All PR people don't send press releases &then not have anyone avail for an intvu, my deadline is now, I'll let you know if it's longterm, no you can't have the questions, repeating the same 3 lines to all questions is not an intvu. Good start?
— carolyn dunn (@carolyndunncbc) November 10, 2017
Don’t customize/personalize pitches
Just got a PR pitch addressing me as "Hi xx" #opensource
— Bob Brown (@alphadoggs) February 23, 2016
PR: Here's a pitch
Me: I don't cover that
PR: You replied oh thank god! Who does
Me: No one
PR: What time of day works best for you to meet
— Alex Konrad (@alexrkonrad) March 29, 2016
Reminder to PR people: when I don’t respond to a pitch, assume I’m not interested and don’t have time to replay personally. Do NOT follow up
— Dan Goodin (@dangoodin001) October 22, 2015
Excessively follow up
1/2 #PR pet peeve of the day. Emails with "second attempt," "third attempt," etc. in subject line. it's telemarketing for the digital age.
— Clint Boulton (@ClintBoulton) March 30, 2016
Beyond excessively follow up
American PR gal wins award & breaks record by sending 7 emails to “reach out & circle back” on one single story.
Yes Ms S, it’s you pic.twitter.com/VG5brKTkzN
— Adrían Bridgwater (@ABridgwater) July 24, 2017
Publicity is a lot like online dating. Aim for lasting relationships, not one and done transactions. The best way to do that is to first understand where the reporter is coming from and what they are responsible for. Ultimately, they are beholden to their editor and their readers. Ad revenue is driven by click throughs, so media outlets need to create editorial content readers will read so they get the revenue. That means the content you provide has to be relevant.
amazes me PR people think I want to interview a CEO w/o a reason to care about their company. I need to be able to sell to editors/readers
— Tonya Jo Riley (@TonyaJoRiley) May 19, 2017
The second part is understanding what reporter’s are looking for in terms of content. Hint: It’s not just to write a glowing review of your company or product. If you were to take a journalism 101 class, you’d learn that the following elements make a story newsworthy:
Why today? It’s the first question my former colleague, Doug Holt, used to ask when he was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Why is this story relevant? Why should readers care?
How many people does it affect or have the power to affect?
Is it in the reporter’s back yard? If there’s no local angle, the reporter probably isn’t going to cover it.
Is there a celebrity or important person attached? Is your CEO the relevant person? If so, what makes their perspective so unique? What qualifications do they bring to the table?
Are you the underdog taking on an established company? How did you build a better mousetrap? How is the industry getting it wrong and how is your company getting it right?
How does this story tug at the heart strings? How does it make people’s lives better?
By understanding what reporters are tasked with and what they’re looking for in terms of content, you can zero in on how to best help them. Remember, publicity is about being of service to the reporter and their readers first. It’s about building relationships:
most helpful PR person ever today: responded quickly, connected me w/ source within 24hrs, followed up & wished me a merry Christmas #rarity
— Kristi Oloffson (@kristi_o) December 16, 2010